Failure, Success, and Victory: My Experience with Worlds 2015

Well, another World Freestyle Championships have come and gone.  This one, more than any in the past, has been a roller coaster ride for me.  I spent the past year (among other things) enjoying learning wave tricks and honing skills that would get me on the US Team to compete on the Garburator Wave at the World Championships.  I was ready to make the team, and ready to possibly even win the team trials event.  I was ready to be on the podium in Canada.  I had a good plan, I could do every trick quickly and consistently, and I was happy with my skills and happy with how I’d prepared.  Then lightning struck in during the team trials event for me and with two very flat surges of the great wave in Glenwood, I had failed to make the team.   I wouldn’t be allowed to compete at all, let alone be on the podium on one of my favorite waves.  Major bummer.

Fast forward to about 2 months before the event, Taft dropped off the US team for the squirt class.  With no other alternate competitors lined up, I volunteered to take the spot.  I had never been interested in competing squirt at the ICF events in the past because it has generally showcased a kind of paddling I don’t enjoy.  Namely, flatwater tricks, or playing a hole in a squirt boat with little mystery potential.  I know that there are lots of folks who enjoy those things, but my squirt boat is so small that those things physically hurt me.  Plus, what I really love are mystery moves.  If you follow me on facebook or YouTube, you can find lots of photos, videos, and posts about just how much I love to be underwater in my squirt boat.  It’s probably my favorite kind of kayaking.  Underwater flight in a squirt boat is wonderfully different than anything else in life.   It’s like being in another world.  At THIS World Championships, the squirt class would compete at Smoothie, which is a fantastic mystery arena.

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Long story short, I had a really fun day competing with many of my best friends and ended up winning.  Clay finished in second place and easily could have finished in first.  We were both scoring 20-30 second mystery moves regularly (Clay hit a 31!), and lots of clean, superclean, and trophy moves during our competitive rides.   It was great to see so many folks who came out to watch, cheer, and tell me that they really enjoyed the show–and more importantly to me, how much that they’d actually like to try squirt boating!   To me the major victory here would be if any of them were to actually try a squirt boat and enjoy this weird sub-sport that I love so much.

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Somehow winning the squirt class did little to ease the sting of watching my friends compete on Garb, while wishing I was paddling with them.  Disappointment comes to us all, and I’m lucky enough that for me, this time it means that I still get to kayak every day–just not at this event.  The challenge for us (especially when kayaking occasionally brings disappointment) is to remember that kayaking is the greatest and most fun sport in the world, and that those of us who get to do it are the lucky few.  We’ll all have fantastic days to celebrate as well as days full of spectacular failures to celebrate.  Whether it’s a day hitting a line perfectly for the first time, feeling like we “lost our roll”, playing in our favorite playspot with great friends, getting skunked on good water flows, running a sweet waterfall perfectly, losing a race or competition, teaching a friend to love kayaking, getting worked in a huge hole, spending a magical day underwater flying around in a squirt boat, or gear failure, we always still had a better day than anyone who had to do anything else!

I would not be an “unhappy baby” when I didn’t get my way–instead I changed my outlook to enjoying the great achievements of my friends.  Huge congrats to all who competed, medaled, won, and lost at this event–I’m personally especially stoked for Team JK’s Mathieu D (FRA), who’s been on the verge of winning for so many years and won his first ICF medal this year.  It was a beautiful game to have played.  While I didn’t get to enjoy competing at this World Championships on Garb, I still learned tons of fun new tricks which I’ll keep forever, made many great friends, traveled to incredible places, watched a show that was better than any TV program, and challenged myself to become a better paddler.

So what’s the lesson learned?  Enjoy the victories and the failures.  Smile and laugh when things don’t go your way.  Cheer for your friends as they run better lines that you.  Don’t get stressed-out or disappointed when things don’t go your way–kayaking is the greatest, most powerful game in the world, and we’re all lucky enough to get to play!

See you on the river.  Live from the Wet House in Fayetteville, WV,

Stephen Wright

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